A few years ago, I read a vacation post by a blogger-who-shall-not-be-named that really pissed me off. Said blogger retired in his 30s, has a net worth in the millions, and prides himself on being uber-frugal. In this post, he described taking his rather large family to a museum that let visitors set their own admission price. His chosen price? $2.
Not even $2 per person. $2 for his family. And he didn't just list this as a budget line item - he bragged about the "good deal" he had gotten.
I think I vomited a bit in my mouth when I read that. I love the idea of pay-what-you-can attractions and events, because they enable people whose means are limited to participate, without having to ask for a special discount or feeling ashamed about being unable to afford the full price. But the flip side of this is that the people who can afford to need to pay more. Not brag about being an asshole who only pays $2.
When I was revamping my budget recently, I kept thinking back to this post. And even though I feel frustrated and financially vulnerable at the moment, I really want to ensure that I don't start behaving like a dick just to save money. As I get used to putting some limits on my spending, there are a few things I'm doing to try to avoid being a dick.
Recognize my privilege:
I'm not budgeting to survive or even to live comfortably on a small income. I'm not even doing it to make sure I have enough to retire when I'm 65 - I'm doing it in the hope of being able to save enough money to retire as much as 10-15 years earlier than the traditional retirement age. I am incredibly fortunate to be in this financial situation, and hopefully it will get even better "after COVID", if there is such a thing. So I do not need to, nor should I, make morally questionable choices to cut my spending*.
People who work in the service industry are pretty universally underpaid and are often treated really shittily by customers and employers. When I started working as an attending, I made a commitment to do a tiny bit to help people in the industry out by upping my tipping game. I started tipping for takeout, which I had never done before, and I increased how much I tip for delivery and table service. I increased my tipping rates further when COVID hit, and I try to remember to keep some actual cash on me at all times so that I can still tip at places that only accept cards and don't have a tipping option on their machines (I'm looking at you, Starbucks).
It is reeeeealy tempting to cut back on this right now. It's an "easy" way to save money, and it doesn't affect me in the least. Except...cutting back on tipping at the same time as the service industry has been devastated by COVID is the move of an asshole. So whenever I don't cook for myself, I maintain the same tipping rate as I used before.
The charitable donations line in my budget is also a really tempting thing to cut. Spend less without having to give up anything? Sounds great! Except...asshole. I know that my local charities need the money now more than ever, so I'm treating that line as a fixed expense and not touching it**.
Keep supporting the businesses I believe in (and avoiding the ones I don't):
I recognize that the Walton family and Jeff Bezos aren't affected by whether I support their companies, but it feels good to boycott the businesses that seem to be the worst "corporate citizens". (You will also never catch me eating at Chick-fil-A.) And when I avoid the giant multi-nationals, I have more money to spend at local bookstores, the farmers market, and other small businesses. And my dollars actually do matter (at least a little) to local businesses.
What else should I keep doing, even as I try to cut back?
*To be clear, this is where I am right now. For people who aren't earning enough and are legitimately struggling to get by in our brutal capitalist society, do what you need to do.
**Honestly, I should probably actually increase the amount that I donate, but I'm not quite mentally at that point yet. Eventually.